An Expert Guide to Cake Pans

Published on 11/23/2023 · 12 min readWhip up delectable desserts with our expert guide on cake pans! Learn about various shapes, sizes, and materials to find the perfect pan for every cake creation.
Helena Nichols, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Helena Nichols

Photo by Africa Studio

Tl;dr: Everything from the size to the material of your cake pan affects the outcome for everything from shape to how long it will take to bake, and even how dark the cake will be. We can help you find the best one.

There are few things I find more satisfying to bake than a cake. The first thing I learned to bake from scratch was a cake for my grandmother's birthday. While it may not have had the most velvety crumb, it was a solid effort for a young child and set me on a path to professional baking.

I love that cakes are a treat of pure delight, serving no purpose but to make people happy. We use cakes to mark momentous occasions. What would a celebration be without one? But we also use them to lighten up daily life. The moment I realized as an adult that you didn’t need to have a birthday to make a birthday cake, my life changed for the better.

I’ve now been baking for several decades, both at home and in commercial kitchens. This has given me experience with a wide range of cake pan styles, materials, and shapes. Each pan has advantages and uses. Understanding the attributes, both positive and negative, will help you pick the best cake pan for you, and I am here to help.

What are Cake Pans?

Cake pans, at their core, are precisely what they sound like: pans you bake a cake in. They are a subset of bakeware used explicitly for baking cakes. The thing is, this encompasses a wide range of shapes, sizes, and features.

What to Consider When Buying Cake Pans

What are you baking?

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This is the first and most important thing to consider. Do you want a round cake or one with straight sides? Does your cake require high walls or not? The type of cake you want will determine what shape of pan to buy.

What material do you want?

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Consider whether nonstick is important to you or whether you want your pan to be dishwasher safe. Look at the pros and cons of each and make a decision. Do you want your cakes to brown on the bottom and sides like with metal pans, or do you want them cooked but light like with ceramic? Do you want a material that is heavy, like steel or ceramic, or light, like silicone and aluminum?

How big of a pan do you need?

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Your recipe will largely determine this. It is essential to use a pan size specified in the recipe to avoid over or under-baking your cake.

Do you need more than one?

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If you bake cakes with any kind of frequency, the chances are you will need more than one cake pan. Most basic cake recipes require at least two round cake pans to make a layer of cake. However, cake pans are generally not one-and-done pies. Sheet pans can be used for cookies and other pastries. Square cake pans can be used for brownies and cinnamon rolls. Cupcake tins can be used for muffins. If you invest in a selection, you will be well set with bakeware.

How much should a cake pan cost?

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Finally, the amount you want to spend can not be overlooked. There are good options for each price range, so find one that fits your budget and your needs.

As with most products, there is a range for pricing. The nice thing is, for the most part, a single cake pan will not be horrendously expensive. An aluminum nonstick pan can cost between $10 to $15, and aluminized-steel will cost a little more, but still under $20. Ceramic, however, can easily double that price. Additional features such as handles or spring form capabilities will also increase the price.

What are the Different Types of Cake Pans

Standard Cake Pans

This is what most people think of when they think of a cake pan. They are typically round or squared. The most common sizes are eight or nine inch round pans or eight-by-eight or nine-by-nine inch square pans. That being said, they come bigger and smaller than that. A recipe should specify the size to use. Standard cake pans are typically two inches tall. Rectangular pans are often nine by 13 and are used for casseroles and lasagnas, but are also ideal for making a single layer cake. This Anolon Pro Bake Bakeware Aluminized Steel Round Cake Pan is simple, and effective.

Benefits:

  • Standardized sizing
  • Multi-purpose
  • Easy to find

Be Aware:

  • Shape and sizes vary for recipes
  • The material will make a difference in end result

High rimmed cake pans

These pans are just like standard cake pans, except they are at least three inches tall or more. While these are less common than the two inch height pans, some recipes will specify a need for these.

Benefits:

  • Good for tall cakes
  • Won’t get over filled

Be Aware:

  • Take longer to bake
  • Not ideal for standard cake height

Springform pans

A springform pan is like a standard or high rimmed bake pan in shape but has a removable bottom that can be secured to the sides of the pan by tightening a latch on the outside of the pan. When the latch is released, the rim of the cake pan expands, releasing the cake and bottom from it, as shown on this Circulon Bakeware Nonstick Springform Pan. These are ideal for delicate baked goods that can not be flipped out of a pan. They are particularly popular for things such as cheesecake.

Benefits:

  • Easy release
  • Great for delicate cakes

Be Aware:

  • It can be difficult to clean
  • It can be difficult to get back together
  • They are not fool proof, and pieces can get pulled off on the sides when released

Cupcake pans

Standard cupcake tin and mini cupcake tin. Photo by Helena Nichols

Cupcake pans are pans with deep, indented cups that can be used to make cupcakes, muffins, and a selection of other similarly shaped items. Cupcake tins typically hold six to 12 standard-sized cupcakes, about three and a half fluid ounces of batter, and are about two inches deep and wide. There are mini cupcake tins that typically hold 12 to 24 cakes, which are typically one inch deep and wide, and jumbo cupcake tins, which are two and a half inches deep and wide or more.

Benefits:

  • Great for small cakes
  • It can be used for other baking projects

Be Aware:

  • They are easy to overfill
  • They can be difficult to clean
  • They are clunky to store

Bundt pans

Bundt pans are round pans with a tube or column in the center that creates a tall, doughnut shaped cake. They come in a variety of styles ranging from plain to decorative. The most common size is 10 inches wide and four inches tall. They are ideal for thick cake batters, which will hold their structure better in the oven and may have a more dense texture. These are used for bundt cakes and angel food cakes.

Benefits:

  • They prevent a soggy middle in a cake
  • They are great for dense cakes
  • Create an easy-to-decorate shape

Be Aware:

  • Light cakes will likely break when you try to get them out
  • While they prevent a soggy middle, they will likely take more time in the oven
  • They are difficult to clean

Sheet Pan / Jelly Roll pans

Sheet pans are incredibly common in any kitchen because they are so multifunctional. Most people use them as cookie sheets, although technically, cookie sheets are unrimmed. A sheet pan is a rectangular pan with a short lip on it, usually maxing out at one inch. These are used to create large, thin sheet cakes, which are often stacked. They can also be used to create rolled cakes such as yule logs or jelly rolls, hence the other name. Sheet pans come in a selection of standardized sizes. A full sheet pan is 26 by 18 inches, a half sheet is 18 by 13 inches, and a quarter sheet is 13 by 9 inches.

Benefits:

  • They are easy to clean
  • Great for baking rolled cakes
  • Easy to store
  • Good for multiple uses

Be Aware:

  • They are easy to overfill
  • They are not meant for tall cakes

Loaf pans

These pans are typically considered to be bread pans but they can be used to make loaf cakes. They can come with or without handles and are usually two and a half inches tall, putting them right in between a standard and extra-tall cake pan. Loaf pans are rectangular, either nine by five or eight and a half by four and a half inches. I like this Anolon Pro Bake Bakeware Aluminized Steel Loaf Pan.

Benefits:

  • They are easy to clean
  • They are great for smaller, dense cakes
  • Makes a tall loaf cake

Be Aware:

  • The middle can underbake and should be checked
  • Lighter cakes may not bake well

Specialty shapes

Specialty shape cake pan shaped like a cupcake. Photo by Helena Nichols

Specialty shape pans are anything outside of the usual circle, rectangle, or square pans. This can be as simple as hearts or doughnuts. It can feature embossed designs of cartoon characters and create 3D effects.

Benefits:

  • You get a fun-shaped cake
  • They can simplify decorations

Be Aware:

  • They can be difficult to clean
  • You have to be aware of the volume of batter they hold
  • It can be hard to get the cakes out
  • They can be more difficult to clean

Features to Look For When Buying Cake Pans

Aluminum

Aluminum is one of the most common materials for a cake pan. It is cheap, effective, is a good heat conductor, and provides consistent results. It both heats up and cools down quickly. Often, an aluminum pan is covered in a nonstick coating. This can concern some as nonstick cake pans typically contain PTFE (also known as Teflon), which can be a health concern for some. Additionally, every nonstick-coated aluminum pan I have ever owned has ended up scratched, which makes the coating less effective. Aluminum is also a reactive metal, meaning if you put acidic ingredients in it, your food may taste metallic, which no baker wants.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is another popular metal for baking tins. A stainless steel tin will hold heat better than aluminum but will not cool down as quickly. I love stainless steel for roasting but generally use other materials for baking because of the heat retention.

That said, stainless steel is not a reactive metal, so it will not have the same metallic taste issues as aluminum. Stainless steel is also incredibly durable. The downside is that stainless steel does tend to be more expensive, such as these excellent Hestan Provisions 3pc Set.

Aluminized Steel

Aluminized steel offers some of the strength of stainless steel while being lighter weight and more affordable. Aluminized steel is a mix of steel coated in aluminum. This means there is still the possibility of a metallic taste from aluminum. Additionally, if the coating wears away or is damaged, the steel underneath will rust.

Glass

Glass cake pan. Photo by Helena Nichols

Glass does not require a nonstick coating. However, it does tend to be more expensive and heavier than aluminum pans. Glass pans are also poor heat conductors and will not brown the bottoms of cakes as quickly as metal will. This can be great for making light cakes but does not give a dark exterior or crisp crust. On the plus side, clear glass cake pans allow you to see how a cake is baking. Additionally, glass cake pans tend to be dishwasher safe.

Ceramic

Ceramic is fast becoming one of the more popular alternatives to traditional nonstick pans, with options such as the Caraway Non-Stick Circle Pan. They are PTFE and PFOA-free and will not scratch as easily from a knife as a Teflon coated cake pan. Ceramic cake pans usually incorporate a metal base, such as steel, that is coated in ceramic, which acts as a nonstick coating. This also allows them to come in some lovely shapes and colors. However, the coating does wear over time, can chip, and is less durable than straight metal cake pans.

Silicone

Silicone is typically used for delicate or intricate-shaped cake molds. It is highly flexible, which makes people worry that it will not hold up well to high heat; however, it is completely oven-safe. The problem is silicone is a thermal insulator, which means it does not transfer heat well, will not brown baked goods very well, and can lead to a soft crust. They can also be more expensive than other types of pans. That being said, I love using silicone pans for intricately shaped designs, as their flexible nature makes it much easier to release the cakes than a solidly structured metal pan.

How to Choose the Right Cake Pan for You

Once you have considered all of the above, it is time to put it all together to find the best cake pans for you. I've created two example bakers to illustrate how to find the best cake pan for you.

Oscar:

Oscar loves to bake. He wants to bake a cheesecake, but needs a pan that makes removing the cake easier. He is also not a big fan of hand-washing pans and is concerned about PFOA’s. Because he needs a springform pan, ceramic and glass are not options. He also does not want to spend too much on one pan.

Features Oscar Should Look For:

  • Easy cleanup, dishwasher safe
  • PFOA free
  • Springform
  • Affordable

Cake Pan Examples: Circulon Bakeware nonstick springform pan, Anolon Advanced Bakeware nonstick springform pan,

Laurel:

Laurel wants some high-quality baking sheets to make rolled cakes and cookies. She does not wish to have a nonstick coating on them, as she lines her pans anyway. She is willing to spend some money to get a nice pan, but does not want to break the bank. Her main concerns are durability and longevity.

Features Laurel Should Look For:

  • Solid construction
  • Medium pricing
  • Uncoated
  • Multi-use

Cake Pan Examples: Anolon Pro Bake Bakeware Aluminized Steel Half Sheet Baking Pan Set, 2-Piece, Caraway Non-Stick ceramic medium baking sheet, Hestan Provisions OvenBond medium sheet pan

Get Baking with Expert Advice

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Choosing the right baking pan means looking at a multitude of factors. If you need more personalized guidance on which pan or pans purchase, you can reach out to one of our Kitchen Experts here on Curated for free personalized advice.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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